Saturday, August 22, 2015

Qatha: Brother queer brother (part 1)

People, Aug '15
By Pawan Dhall and Soma Roy Karmakar

All photographs from the family albums of Sanjib Chakraborty
(left) and Rajib Chakrabarti
Varta brings you the ‘Queer Kolkata Oral History Project’, an initiative to document five decades of queer lives in Kolkata (1960-2000). Our aim in this project is to go back in time and bring forward diverse queer voices through a series of interviews, which will provide a landmark to Kolkata city's queer history. Typically, the focus will be on the queer scenario in Kolkata during the growing up years of each interviewee – how it was to be queer in Kolkata in different decades since the 1960s till more recent times. The effort will be to bring forward a mix of the well known and the lesser known voices. Apart from the excerpts published here, the project also aims to publish a collection of the interviews in different formats. All interviews are based on informed consent and where requested, all markers of identity have been removed for reasons of confidentiality.

In this issue we bring you the first part of an interview with Rajib Chakrabarti, a teacher, 46 years old and a resident of Kolkata, and his brother Sanjib Chakraborty, 42, a health worker and queer activist based in Guwahati. The older brother a reticent speaker, the younger equally voluble, both are a picture of calm and patience and often speak to each other in Sylheti. They talk about the difficult times and small pleasures of life that have seen them through to self-discovery, self-acceptance and discovering each other as gay persons.

The interview was conducted by Pawan Dhall on October 4, 2014, and transcribed by women’s and child rights activist Soma Roy Karmakar.

Pawan: So to begin with, Rajib, would you tell me something about yourself, your age, occupation, education and anything else that you feel like talking about yourself?

Rajib: I’m Rajib, I’m 46, I’m a teacher . . . and I’m an MA, B.Ed.

Pawan: And anything else as part of your likes, interests?

Rajib: Well, I’m interested in writing – it was my dream to be a writer, but . . .

Pawan: What form of writing?

Rajib: When I was young, I preferred stories, especially short stories, but as I grew up, suddenly I found that I could write poems . . . and after that I started writing poetry as well (laughs).

Pawan: Varta has been publishing your poems . . . and have you always been in Kolkata?

Rajib: I grew up in Shillong. After my school final I came to Kolkata.

Pawan: So, this would be around which year?

Rajib: 1984.

Pawan: So you were about 16 at that time.

Rajib: Yes.

Pawan: Sanjib, something about yourself, your age and occupation, education?

Sanjib: Yes, basically born in Shillong . . . December 1972 (laughs), and then grew up in Shillong in the initial years . . . and in 1984 (when I was in the sixth standard), that point of time we shifted to Calcutta . . . then after the schooling, I did my graduation in science – then also had some professional . . . went through some professional courses on management, then initially did some computer courses and then started my career from Presidency Central Jail, in the correctional home – it was a wonderful experience . . . my career, it was more in the non-governmental sector, although I did courses on business management, operations management and also in computer studies . . . but my profession started with working in the non-governmental sector – that is, Sterlite Foundation, Vedanta, it is presently called Vedanta Foundation . . . they were having tailoring courses, computer courses inside different central jails . . . so it was a great experience, after that I also worked in another computer institute in Lake Town for a brief period, for a small women’s organisation, and then . . . All India Women's Conference.

After that got an opportunity to work in another . . . in the HIV sector . . . in Calcutta for around seven years . . . then got an job opportunity in the North-East Regional Office of National AIDS Control Organisation – I have been working there since May 2011 . . . so, this is three years, that is in Gauhati . . . so I went back to the North-East – after my initial years I went back to the North-East and started working over there . . .

Pawan: I will come back to you. One question for Rajib is you said you are a teacher. What do you teach, at what level and how many years have you been teaching?

Rajib: I teach English – from class V to class XII.

Pawan: And how many years have you been teaching?

Rajib: For 20 years.

Pawan: Twenty years! That's a long time and . . . any particular reason why you choose this particular profession?

Rajib: Actually I got this job as looking for any job that I could get after completing my education. Then I was told that . . . for my subject, this is the job that I could get most easily.

Pawan: To both of you, apart from your education and occupation, what I would like to know is . . . have you also been associated with the queer movement in any form, has that been part of your work or passion as well?

Sanjib: Yes, definitely! Actually, for me it was . . . for me definitely . . . when I was a – from my own experience starts from my individual level, when I . . . when I thought it very much, it was something abnormal, I was feeling strongly attracted towards another men from my childhood . . . before even my puberty . . . puberty and adolescent period. So why I have had that strong attraction towards other men instead of . . . instead of . . . women or . . . in the schools also, due to my voice, I was having a shrill voice – and my behaviour, the way I was talking to them, they used to tease me, joke at me – that was in my school days also in Shillong, in a convent school . . . what they would call me “Ladies, ladies!”, oh “Girl!” . . . “A girl, a girl!” they would call me and some of the older boys of higher classes would call me “A girl!” . . . so . . . they tease me sometimes . . .

Pawan:Ei girl” . . . “A girl” or “Ei girl”?

Sanjib Chakraborty (left) and Rajib Chakrabarti with their
mother Uma Chakraborty 

Sanjib: . . . they will call me “Ei girl, ei girl!” (laughs) . . . so my voice, my behaviour, my way of talking to them, approach and all . . . so I was just wondering why I was like that, why that feminine nature or effeminate nature was with me, was coming out that way, so . . . and then I strongly felt that I was attracting, attracted to other men, and . . . I really at that point of time, I was very I try to . . . come out of . . . from that age itself I was struggling if I could overcome my attraction and all that, so when I shifted . . . the problem persisted, quote unquote the problem (chuckles), but which I was really struggling with that . . . and even the school in Calcutta also, that over there, they would call me . . . I think you know about the Bengal . . . that Chaitanya, you know Chaitanya? So they would call me “Chaitanya”, because once I’d, I, means I shaved my hair during my . . . that sacred eeye . . . then so . . .


Sanjib: Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (laughs) . . .

Pawan: That's an honour!

Sanjib: Yes (laughs), and Chaitanya in one way . . . because, yes, so many interpretations might be . . . he was a lover of Krishna, he was a . . . what to say, he was a preacher of love and so many things (laughs), so . . . and there was another guy in my school also, who was quite effeminate, means feminine – they would call him “Ladies!”, they would not call me directly “ladies”, they would call him “ladies”, and there also I was just wondering if he might also be of . . . does he have same-sex attraction and all that, is he homosexual or not? Because I was not very much aware of these terms also, it was in ‘85, ‘86, ’87, and at the same period of time my brother was undergoing some . . . was having some depression at that point in his college days, and he was consulting some doctor . . . he was mentally very depressed . . . and he was not very well at that point of time, and he went through some doctors when he was in his school days, so . . .

Rajib: College days . . .

Sanjib: . . . in his college days . . . so that point of time he was noting some of the points to be consulted to the doctor, and one of the words was 'homosexual' . . . and . . .

Rajib: Homosexual mentality.

Sanjib: What?

Pawan and Rajib: Homosexual mentality.

Sanjib: Mentality, homosexual mentality . . . I could not, that time only I came to the word 'homosexual', I was not very much aware of the term and over there I openly I went through the dictionary and came to the term, I was not aware that he was also having the same orientation or same feelings, he was also attracted to another men and when we were . . . 1987, that period, we also had that The World this Week, at that point Prannoy Roy's The World this Week once portrayed first time about the HIV/AIDS at that point of time, the epidemic . . . AIDS, and it was clearly mentioned over there that HIV is transmitted, I think the difference between HIV and AIDS was not much clear that I don’t remember, but it was clarified that three ways of infection, it can be from . . . sexual route can be men to men, men to women and women to men . . . three ways of sexual route transmission was mentioned there! And this was the first time it was given in figures, two men having sex and . . . that gave me a lot of eeye . . . that means it is quite prevalent in other parts of the world and it is not that I am alone like that, there is lot of other people like that and when I saw in the dictionary also I came about the term, I was really . . . wanted to talk to about to others, about my attraction, about my . . .

When I was just starting my adolescent, when I was just going through my adolescent period . . . my fantasy and everything was completely . . . I was with the . . . with men, and I strongly wanted to talk to somebody, some other people, but I didn't find any environment in my school, in my locality, where I used to stay in Tollygunge . . . I was trying to talk to some other people, because most of my friends would talk about girl friends and . . . and when they were closely having peer group discussion they would talk about other girls in around regarding the sexual attraction, their different body parts or all that, which I didn’t find any . . . didn't at all find it attractive . . . point of discussion, and I did not know how they will react and I could understand that it will be not be welcome if I talk to them on those areas. Then, from the school days I . . . I felt very much lonely and when I was in ‘90-’91 at that period of time just after completing my . . . ’91-‘92, at that period of time, I . . . when I went . . . for college days, 11, 12, first year, second year, over there when I was going through the college days, I found that . . . I was really desperate to go to some doctors, discuss about my . . . that why I have been . . . attraction and even my voice, I was very much concerned because at least one point is getting my internal . . . internally if I can come out of this attraction, externally if people, the way the society is treating me, ridiculing me, laughing at me, teasing at me, even in my locality and in my school, if I could come out of it, about my voice people will tease me, so I really would go . . . really thought that if I could come out of it. So I discussed around the year of ‘91 and all that, I discussed with . . . the doctors and went to Yoga teacher . . .

Pawan: Okay.

Sanjib: So at that point of time, I was desperate to get myself some treatment, so I went to some doctors, allopathic doctors . . . then in the home, at my home, I found some booklets regarding Ayurvedic treatment on sexual diseases and in Shyambazar area I found that treatment for sexual diseases, so, so those two places I found it, one the Ayurvedic treatment and one allopathic doctor, and another my Yoga teacher in New Alipur, so I consulted three of them regarding the . . . the Ayurvedic . . . I wrote a letter to them, then they said that treatment can be done, you have to do  and over there lot of treatments were regarding . . . lot of information was given, which I later on came to know these are myths and these are not facts, and but all the treatments failed, allopathic, Ayurvedic and also the Yoga teacher didn't tell me that it will be cured or anything, he just told that lead your normal life and don't go for any therapy over here in India, they are not equipped over here, so he read a lot of books, he told that . . . so he told me that much only. So after that it was another journey, I came out through the . . . through the newspapers and all, I came to know of the various informations, which made me comfortable with my orientation.

Pawan: And . . . and this is just to be precise, we are talking about early ‘90s?

Sanjib: Yes, early ‘90s . . .

Pawan: Okay, okay . . .

Sanjib: ‘91, ‘92, ’93, ’94.

Pawan: Okay . . . I hope you don't mind my saying this, but one very unique aspect about interviewing both of you is, as Sanjib, you mentioned that through a prescription for your brother you came to know that he was also attracted to men, and so were you, and so you’re both brothers who have the same sexual orientation, so that is unique situation for a lot of people and . . . before I ask you any other questions, first I would like to know from Rajib, you know, how did you, like Sanjib mentioned his discovery – personal discovery, how was it that you first realised about yourself, or came to know . . . about your orientation?

Rajib: When I was in school . . . so I saw my class mates . . . sometimes they were . . . class mates just fought playfully, I . . . two of them just were testing their power (laughs), that sort of thing, I found that I had an erection.

Pawan: How old were you then?

Rajib: I was probably about 14 and then . . . when I saw such situations I had erection or what I saw some fighting scenes in movies, at that time I didn't watch many movies, but I used to read comics, Flash Gordon and Phantom and all that, there were lot of fighting scenes . . .

Pawan: Underwear above the pants, that was attractive!

Rajib: Haan?

Pawan: The underwear above the pants, was that attractive?

Sanjib: The masculine body, what did attract you?

Rajib: Well just . . . not body actually, means the person was more powerful physically (laughs), I found it, actually I didn't feel attracted, I just saw that scene and it gave me some sort of . . .

Sanjib: Stimulation?

Rajib: Yeah, stimulation . . . I, at that time, I didn't feel attracted, I didn’t like to . . . means I didn't have the desire to get close to that person, I just . . . it was a sort of admiration you could say . . . and then . . . well, these things I couldn’t share with anybody, and it was much later that I realised that these are attraction . . . and then just near my school we had a State Library in Shillong. After my school I use to go to the library and read a lot of books and there I saw articles on homosexuality in the Encyclopedia Americana . . .

Pawan: I see.

Rajib: So that was in the . . . in the early ‘80s and the editions that were there in the library in Shillong, probably they belonged to the ‘60s, and . . .  well I read that . . . one . . . towards the conclusion of that article it was written that most homosexual people, they go for treatment and I thought that I would go for it when I grew up. And . . . then after moving to Kolkata, I . . . well, life was going on and then . . . after that I had depression when I was in college, at that time I wrote those two words “homosexual mentality” and brother came to know about it, and I didn't know about my brother's orientation. I think I came to know about it few months after that because he . . . actually I’m . . . we were having some problems at home or so and I . . . I one day I wrote to our Yoga teacher, the same teacher who . . . to whom my brother went, I wrote a letter to him stating different problems that I was facing, and there I also wrote . . . well before or after that, I think he . . . my brother told me that you should mention everything clearly, and he indirectly told me that I should also mention about my orientation along with that, and I wrote everything in that letter and I gave it to him. He told me that you needn’t bother about these things, I can't remember exactly what he told me, but he . . . he didn't tell me anything in particular and then . . . I was having, I think it was some before some examination . . . before my Part-II exam I think, or final exam when I was in college, I was having some headache, I could not study for a long time, more than 15 minutes, and so at that time I consulted a doctor and I told the doctor about my orientation, he told this is nothing to worry about, only it may cause you problems when you marry . . . and then my bother came in . . . came across the address of Pravartak, and he got in touch with you and . . .

Pawan: So before we go to Pravartak . . . when, when Sanjib came to know or came across your notes that you had made, or the words you had written, what happened? He spoke to you about it?

Sanjib: After many years . . . ‘91, ’92.

Pawan: Achha, achha . . . let him answer.

Sanjib: Yes, yes, yes.

Pawan: So how, I mean did you all speak to each other about it?

Rajib: Not much, but from that time I think we started . . . these . . . started collecting newspaper clippings about these things.

Pawan: No, but were you doing this individually or together?

Rajib: Individually, later on we showed them to one another.

To be continued.


Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!




Soma Roy Karmakar passionately believes in gender equality and women’s empowerment. She works on issues of child sexual abuse with RAHI Foundation, Kolkata.

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